Men’s hockey: Gophers mix old, new talents to subdue Fighting Hawks

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Ralph Engelstad Arena is known for having one of the most raucous audiences in college hockey. But with one of the game’s most renowned rivalries being renewed before their eyes, North Dakota fans were left with nothing to cheer about.

Top-ranked Minnesota got a pair of second-period goals and a shutout from goalie Justen Close to dispatch the Fighting Hawks 4-0 on Friday in the opener of their two-game set.

“They get it going in there. The student section is crazy. It’s a fun place to play,” Gophers defenseman Luke Mittelstadt said, noting the crowd had gone mostly quiet by the third. “I think our parents ran a Gopher chant with about two minutes left. That was my favorite part of the game.”

Brody Lamb and Oliver Moore scored for the Gophers (3-0-0) while Close had 25 saves for his second consecutive clean sheet, and the 11th of his career. He now sits two shutouts shy of tying the school’s career record of 13, jointly held by Adam Wilcox and Kellen Briggs.

North Dakota (2-1-0) got 28 saves from goalie Ludvig Persson in the loss.

“Early on, I thought we had some pretty good looks on (Close),” North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. “He’s a goaltender that’s technically sound, he made some good first saves and we’ve got to continue to stay in there.”

The opening period lacked goals but did not lack intensity, as momentum swung freely from one end of the ice to another. Close was particularly strong in the opening five minutes, when North Dakota had the game’s first five shots and an early power play. The Minnesota goalie kept the home team off the board and kept the sellout audience from an early eruption.

“There’s two games that you play at North Dakota: the first 10 (minutes) and the next 50,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “They came out hard tonight and we had to adjust on the road. The first 10 (minutes), I think 7-0 were the shots, but the next 50 we hunkered down and played hockey.”

The Gophers finally broke the deadlock early in the second when Lamb got behind the North Dakota defense after a lead pass from Jaxon Nelson and scored on a breakaway. Moore doubled the lead with his first collegiate goal, hitting the upper corner over Persson’s left shoulder with a rising shot.

“I hope that’s how I drew it up, against UND, obviously a big stage, if that’s my first goal, it’s awesome,” said a beaming Moore, who had played center in his first two games, but was moved to a wing on Friday. “It’s the first of many, hopefully.”

Lamb nearly made it 3-0 in the waning seconds of the middle period, but was thwarted by the Hawks goalie on another breakaway chance. Minnesota outshot its foes 11-4 in the second period it dominated.

Minnesota’s penalty killers foiled four North Dakota power plays, including one in the final 10 minutes. Bryce Brodzinski scored into and empty net late in the third, and Jimmy Snuggerud beat Persson 18 seconds later to extend Minnesota’s lead.

Extra pucks

Injured Gophers defenseman Mike Koster came along on the trip to Grand Forks and was on the ice for the team’s Friday morning skate, but is not yet ready to return to the lineup. Injured forward Mason Nevers did not make the trip.

Friday’s win by Minnesota was its 151st, or its 143rd, all-time versus North Dakota, depending on how you count them. The Gophers had eight wins versus a club team from UND prior to the official start of varsity hockey at the school in 1946.

The Gophers and Fighting Hawks conclude their nonconference series with a 6 p.m. start on Saturday evening in Grand Forks. North Dakota will honor 1987 Hobey Baker Award winner Tony Hrkac prior to the game.

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